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Rare snow falls in south Louisiana, Mississippi

NEW ORLEANS — A rare snowfall blanketed south Louisiana and parts of Mississippi Thursday, closing schools, government offices and bridges, triggering crashes on major highways and leaving thousands of people without power.

Up to 8 inches of snow was reported in parts of Louisiana. Snow also covered a broad swath of Mississippi, including the Jackson area, and closed schools in more than a dozen districts.

A heavy band of snow coated windshields and grassy areas in New Orleans, where about an inch accumulated. A peak of 8 inches was reported in Amite, about 75 miles northwest of New Orleans, said meteorologist Danielle Manning of the National Weather Service in Slidell.

Office workers stepped out of high-rises to catch a snowflake, snap pictures with cell-phone cameras and swap snow stories.

At a park in New Orleans' Uptown neighborhood, Sara Echaniz, 41, took photos and dodged snowballs thrown by her son, 3-year-old Sam. "He didn't believe it was snow until it started sticking to the ground," said Ecahniz, a native of Rochester, N.Y., who was pregnant with the child the last time it snowed in New Orleans, in December 2004.

In Mississippi, up to 5 inches of snow fell on areas south of Jackson. The snow in Mississippi and Louisiana was clearing out Thursday afternoon, but forecasters warned that freezing temperatures could make for treacherous driving conditions overnight.

In Alabama, storms dumped more than 3 inches of rain across northern parts of the state ahead of a blast of cold air and added precipitation that forecasters said could turn into a wintry mix. Several of the state's school systems dismissed students early because of the possibility of flooding or snow.

Flood watches were issued through Thursday night for much of North Carolina ahead of the storm system. Colder air behind the front could produce snow late Thursday and early Friday in the mountains.

In Louisiana, roughly 10,000 power outages were reported by Cleco Corp., one of the state's largest power providers. The company said it expected most of the outages to be restored by nightfall.

The weather service said the previous earliest date for measurable snowfall in New Orleans was Dec. 22, 1989.

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